Friday, August 28, 2015, Mile 2480: Connecting the Dots

At Pear Lake, Mile 2480

It rained overnight, and the poor duo with the slack rainfly were obviously soaked. Fortunately, it’s an easy downhill hike back to the trailhead, so I wasn’t too concerned.

I left Lake Valhalla around 8:00, and connected the dots to Smithbrook and Lake Janus. That’s going to be the story, through Red Pass: connecting places and trail segments which I’ve already hiked with places and segments that I haven’t yet done. It’s kind of fun. In terms of the PCT, the south part of Section K is the one I’ve hiked the most.

Smithbrook Sign
Smithbrook-PCT junction *

I’ve been to Lake Janus twice before. It was nice to see the lake, and then this time head up to Grizzly Peak. This was something I’ve wanted to do, but haven’t been able to put together; it’s more of an overnight than a day hike, and that’s the only thing I’ve ever been able to do around here.

Lake Janus
Lake Janus *

I ascended Grizzly, which is one of the only peaks on the entire trail where you actually go over the summit. From there, it was easy to see Heather Lake. I hiked to Heather several years ago, when we camped at Lake Wenatchee for a few days.

On my way up to Grizzly, I saw Daniel, who I’d met at the Dinsmores’ two nights ago. He was the triple crowner, who had decided to make it to the border however it took him…if the trail opened, if he had to do a roadwalk for dozens and dozens of miles, whatever it was.  It was great to see him. He took off, and with his speed I knew we wouldn’t meet up again.

2015-08-28 15.19.50
Near the summit of Grizzly Peak

After the summit, there was a beautiful ramble as I slowly descended to Wenatchee Pass.  I was the only person to be seen, and I was filled with a giddy joy.  What a privilege to be up here!

2015-08-28 15.31.42
Just me and the trail.

From the summit, I dipped down, and then descended to Wenatchee Pass, just before tonight’s destination, Pear Lake. What with Pear, and nearby Peach and Top lakes, Ira Spring and Harvey Manning referred to this weekend trip as “A Pear, A Peach, and a Topping.”

2015-08-28 15.55.28
Heading down to Pear Lake

I didn’t find a spot by myself; the only obvious campsite was rather large, and was being partially used by three guys on a weekend trip. They were down at the lake, trying for fish, and I grabbed a tiny corner of the site. The guys were quite nice about it, although I’m sure they would have much rather been by themselves. My spot was under a grove of trees, with a very slight slope; the slope would prove advantageous during the night.

Pear Lake Large
Pear Lake *

I was able to text with Steve a few times; this doesn’t happen frequently, as signal can be iffy. He was at the Gipsy Kings concert. It would have been fun to be there, but there’s the whole problem with teleportation. I think we need a few date nights when I get home.

*Photo credit: bradwalksthepct2015.blogspot.com

Thursday, August 27, 2015, Mile 2467: The Last Section

At Lake Valhalla, Mile 2467

Memory eternal, Dad. I hope you’re proud of me.

I got a shower and loaded up my pack, before we took off for Skykomish. Because of the uncertainty of everything, I’m carrying two extra days’ worth of food. Food is heavy.

2015-08-27 09.45.48
Andrea, Jerry, and I. It was wonderful to get to know them better.

Jerry and Carl and I had breakfast at the Cascadia, and I once again did myself proud in the calorie department. Burp. We said goodbye at the Sky Deli, and I grabbed the deli’s hitch sign (“PCT Hiker to Stevens Pass”) and proceeded to stick out my thumb. Nobody pulled off of the highway, but a mom (Sarah) and her little daughter (Eva) were at the deli, and mom said, “You’re a hiker! Get in! We can take you to the pass.” And it was a delightful drive.

They dropped me off at the pass, and I adjusted my pack (yet again), grabbed a Powerade, and got the latest info on the trail. Nothing has changed.

2015-08-27 12.04.20 edit
At Stevens, just before hitting the trail northbound
2015-08-27 12.34.41
Sign at the trailhead, regarding the Wolverine/Blankenship fire closures. Even this sign was out of date, as Rainy Pass was inaccessible from the west side, due to the fire and slide at Newhalem.
2015-08-27 12.34.59
PCT North trailhead at Stevens Pass

I crossed the pedestrian bridge and set off from the northbound trailhead. There’s probably a couple of miles of flat, paralleling the highway. I took advantage of this to catch up on my recording.

My destination was just up the trail, to Lake Valhalla. It’s very easy, and is a popular day hike; I was here last year, relaxing at the beach and handing out magic to the thrus. This year, the hike was discouraging. I’m going to be hiking through a bunch of weather, to a dead end; I was asking why I’m even doing this. But I just kept walking. Listened to a podcast, kept walking. Kept walking.  Kept walking.

2015-08-27 14.22.12

The weather forecast is pretty dismal. Rain should be moving in by Friday. There’s functionally 100% chance of rain, between Friday morning and Saturday night; it then tapers off to almost 100% chance of rain. It’s gonna be a damp one. But if you want to hike in Washington, you’d better be able to deal with rain.

I doubt I’ll see many PCT hikers on this section. There’s probably only a few doing what I’m doing, getting to a stopping place and not missing any of the trail until that point.

2015-08-27 13.54.29
Heading up to Lake Valhalla. Today, I’m appreciating blue skies.

I had an entire large campsite to myself, with a family off in the distance. Two gentlemen came through but camped elsewhere; they had attempted to drive up Smithbrook Road to get to the trail via Union Gap, but Smithbrook is closed due to fire danger. The road actually goes over the crest and into Eastern Washington, which is undoubtedly the reason for the closure.

2015-08-27 16.40.57
Lake Valhalla
2015-08-27 16.41.04
I was amazed at how low the lake was. The sandy beach was very pleasant, though.
2015-08-27 16.45.38
Selfie in the sun

Later on, a father and his teenage son showed up, with shiny new gear. Unfortunately for them, they only threw the rain fly on top of the tent, and didn’t bother staking it out.  This may not bode well.

I had my current favorite dinner: 4 oz of spaghetti, cooked until not quite al dente, and then dehydrated.  Rehydrate in boiling water for a minute, drain. Toss with 2 packs olive oil, and then 2 packs parmesan. About 800 calories. I’ve got to think about what I’ll be eating the next few days, as I will undoubtedly be cooking in my vestibule, out of the weather.

And speaking of weather, it’s starting to move in; things are clouding up, with mackerel skies and mare’s tails.

I texted with Steve for a bit. I told him I’ve faced bigger challenges in my life than just putting off a dream for a year. I can do this. But I don’t want to. I want to keep going, and hit the border. And I don’t want to wait; I want to do it right now. But that’s not even an option, from the side of the fire that I’m on.

So I’ll just keep plugging away, and knock off 77 miles. And good heavens, I’ve done part of this segment in the rain before, so I guess I can do it again. I’m not going to push myself too hard, because why? I’ve got enough food, and the trail is familiar enough. So sometime next Thursday-ish, I’ll head down the hill.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015, Mile 2461: Decision

At Dinsmores Hiker Haven, Mile 2461

This morning, we all piled in the truck and headed up to the Cascadia for breakfast. I had a huge scramble, hash browns, toast, half of Meander’s biscuits and gravy, and somebody else’s bacon. And somebody’s extra ice cream bar on the way home. Jerry just kind of looked at me, and I said, “No, I don’t normally eat like this.” LOL

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Meander (aka Edward Intven, think “In da Van”). I’ve seen him several places online, and he’s a delightful gentleman with a lovely spirit. He joined us for breakfast, and met up with Flash, who is staying with the Dinsmores, and River, who just dropped by the restaurant. They are all members of the Class of 2013, and it was a complete and wonderful coincidence. I had the pleasure of sharing a table with them at breakfast. Fun times!

Let’s see, who else is here. I met Climbin’ Lineman (aka Carl), who is a gentleman of retirement age, from Salt Lake. He is very devout, and because of that will not travel on Sundays. More power to him.

Patriot is here…we met at Snoqualmie. He’s in his late teens, and from Louisiana. He’s also an Eagle, and so he and Brendan spent some time geeking out over Scouts yesterday.

Other names I remember: Trout (aka Gone Slow), Shady Acres, Heather, Kirby, Weekend, Double Happiness, Penny Lane (aka Jen Marie), Daniel Barrett (a Triple Crowner, trail name unknown). Wish I could remember everyone’s name.

2015-08-26 10.21.18
Climbin’ Lineman, Trout, Patriot, and Shady Acres at the Cascadia
2015-08-26 10.20.52
River, Flash, Rest Step, and Meander.
2015-08-26 10.46.12
Part of my breakfast.

After breakfast, Andrea broke out the camera. She keeps an online album every year, with all of the hikers who come through.

Dinsmores Hiker Log Pic
I made it into Andrea’s 2015 PCT Hiker Album! L-R Kirby, Climbin’ Lineman, Heather, and I.

Yesterday, I just hung out with Andrea, Jerry, and the hikers.  I really needed a quiet day, especially with all the emotions regarding my decision.  Jerry and I went down for coffee yesterday afternoon.  He’s got a large group of friends in the community, and they’re always meeting at the restaurant.  It’s kind of like Dad and the boys down at the marina.

Dinner was easy: we all pooled our money, and Jerry and a few of the hikers went down to Gold Bar to pick up pizza.  Lots of pizza.  Enormous quantities of pizza. Everybody hung out in the hiker dorm, swapping tales, inhaling dinner, etc.  Mellow and very peaceful.

2015-08-26 20.04.05
Pizza for the masses. These were enormous, and there was almost one pizza per hiker.
Dinsmores Pizza Night
Because if you’re gonna have a pizza party, it’d better be good! With Kirby, Rest Step, Patriot, Daniel, Valorie, Sam, Gretchen, TJ, and Kasey. *

So, the decision. I was correct to assume that the Dinsmores have the latest info. Andrea was talking with the powers that be on a regular basis, and posting what she learned in the hiker dorm.

2015-08-26 13.49.19

2015-08-26 13.49.07

Blankenship Closure Info
Closure from Suiattle River north to High Bridge, the junction to Stehekin.

It’s clear what I need to do, and it’s not the decision I wanted to make.  I’m going to continue my footpath, north from Stevens (mile 2461) to the trail closure at Suiattle River (mile 2538), and come off of the trail.  The factors in that decision:

  • The PCT is closed from the Suiattle River Trail (mile 2538), north to Stehekin.
  • Highway 20 is closed west of Rainy Pass, at Newhalem, due to a fire and landslide. This effectively shuts off any trail access from the west, north of the Suiattle closure.
  • Highway 20 has been periodically closed east of Rainy Pass, due to the Okanogan Complex fires.
  • The only way to get to Stehekin is to take Highway 2, east over Stevens, to Chelan (via Wenatchee, if you’re on a bus).
  • From Stehekin, it’s possible to hike north to Rainy Pass, and from there to the border. However, Forest Service personnel, volunteers, and knowledgeable residents have warned about smoke and ash, due to the current fires, and due to the smaller fire north of Rainy Pass.
  • I have asthma, and I have a proclivity towards bronchitis.
  • Unlike hikers from out of state, it’s easy for me to get back on the trail next year, at Suiattle.

So for now, it looks like my hike is over at Suiattle River. That will give me roughly 300 miles this year, with another 100 and small change next year. Andrea recommends returning in early to mid July of next year, depending on the snowpack, so as to avoid the most dangerous part of wildfire season. And my guys completely get this, and are totally willing to support me as I return to the trail next summer.

This is NOT how I wanted my hike to end. I wanted to finish at the Northern Terminus. I guess sometimes we don’t get what we want, and it works out for other reasons. I’ll be home with Patrick at the beginning of school.  Not quite the first day, but the first week.  I get to spend time with Steve, learning about wine, which is his passion. But I’ve got to let myself grieve the plan that I had.

So I’ll enjoy my time here with friends, and then after breakfast tomorrow I’ll hitch up to the trail, and head north…to finish out this section of my dream.

*Photo credit: Jen Marie

Tuesday, August 25, 2015, Mile 2461: Magic at the Dinsmores

At Dinsmores Hiker Haven, Mile 2461

I got up at 5:30, to give myself time to hit the trailhead at 10:00. The trail was five miles, traversing a bowl before climbing a ridge to a chairlift at Stevens Pass. I worked my way along the ski slopes, and finally down to the parking lot.

Stevens Push 5
Fall Colors above Stevens *
Stevens Chair
Climbing the last ridge, past a chairlift *
Stevens Descent
The descent into Stevens Pass *

Brendan and Alex weren’t there yet, but I met a guy named Fred, who spends most of the year travelling in his van, just seeing different places. He was waiting for his monthly check to arrive (tomorrow), and was getting low on food. And lo and behold, here comes Brendan and Alex with an ENORMOUS vanload of chow. Perfect timing.

We stopped in Skykomish, at the Sky Deli, and I got my coveted BURGER AND SHAKE MMMM!! And then it was down the hill to Baring, and the Dinsmores.

Jerry greeted me with a big hug, and then the kiddos proceeded to unload the van. Eyes started popping in all directions. Not even thrus could put this much food away. They were incredibly grateful.

Andrea came out and gave me another big hug, and her eyes started bugging out as well. Most of the food will last quite well in the hiker dorm fridge, and Brendan ended up taking a bunch home, but there were some mighty happy hikers.

I was very grateful just to be here; I know this is where I’ll need to make my decision, and there’s no better place to do it than in the midst of the hiking community, with the very latest info.

2015-08-26 13.48.35
The shower and laundry house. Before washing clothes or taking a shower, hikers need to pre-wash their socks and their feet.
2015-08-26 13.48.38
The garage. A large portion, to the left, contains the hiker dorm.

Anyway, while the kids were feeding people, I started my laundry, grabbed a shower, and began sorting my resupply. Brendan had brought up my bounce bag as well. Many thrus or longer distance sectioners will have a bounce box. This contains things needed periodically, or sometime in the future, and is generally sent a few resupplies up the road. I have a duffel, which the family brings up whenever they meet me; it’s got a couple of sets of street clothes, some extra toiletries, and the like. It was nice to wear a cotton t-shirt while my hiking clothes were in the laundry. But even if I didn’t have the bag, the Dinsmores have a big stash of loaner clothes for laundry time. Last year, the favorite was a purple prom dress, which appeared several times in the annual hiker photo album which Andrea puts together.

Once I was done shuffling things, Brendan and Alex headed down the hill. I wish we’d had more time to hang out; seeing family has been a huge deal for me.

Another cool thing that happened was that I met Soul Sista (aka Ronnie). She’s done a lot of work with packs, and was able to help me get mine adjusted better. We ended up setting the height to halfway between small and xtra small. But ultimately, she couldn’t get it where it needed to be, and she strongly recommends I get a new pack. Maybe it’s time to take a look at the new Mariposa. Anyway, she is up here for a few weeks, camping on the 2 acres of lawn, and generally helping out. There are several people who come up here and pitch in during the summer, cooking, repairing, driving folks, etc. Did I say this community is awesome?

I slept in the hiker dorm last night. Since Jerry and Andrea introduced a No Alcohol policy, there’s no reason to stay up late and party. The lights were out by ten. Of course, maybe that was because we were all excited about having a Real Bed!

2015-08-25 16.09.10
The hiker dorm at Dinsmores Hiker Haven. They have bunk beds (with real mattresses), recliners, a basic kitchen w/fridge, microwave, and pantry), a huge hiker box with sorted supplies, a wood stove, and TONS of memorabilia from hikers through the years.

2015-08-25 16.09.18 2015-08-25 16.09.25

Monday, August 24, 2015, Mile 2457: Final Push

At Lake Susan Jane, Mile 2457

2015-08-24 07.43.12

Today was the push to Lake Susan Jane, 13 miles, 3700 gain. There were three full ridges to climb. The first, to Pieper Pass, was probably only 1000 ft, so just a warmup. On my way there, I met a father and his two elementary-age kids. They were heading south from Stevens to Snoqualmie. The kids looked a little unsure, so I told them that there was a pancake restaurant at the end of their hike. This got their attention, and the dad gave me a grateful grin as they headed on their way.

I did take the time to enjoy the views * along the way, though. The smoke was visible off and on, throughout the entire section.

Stevens Push 1 Stevens Push 2 Stevens Push 3 Stevens Push 4

Trap Pass was a real attention-getter, and I definitely got to use my namesake hiking maneuver. On the way up to Trap Pass, I met two very cool women, Colleen and Lexie, from Skykomish. They were out for a few days, doing their first solo backpack, with brand-new gear and everything. I introduced myself, and we fell into conversation. I told them how cool it was that they were out doing this, and that it totally rocks my world when I see women (especially above a certain age) out here, going for it. I gave them a few pointers, such as how to hold trekking poles, etc. They were going very slowly, but they were going, and that’s the cool part. They also shared trail mix, and a couple of sticks of pepperoni. The latter was a surprise to me. I gobbled it down, and suddenly felt that post-protein clearheadedness. Guess what I’m buying in Skykomish?

I crested the pass and headed down the other side. There were quite a few people out there, as has been the case the entire section. I doubt I’ve gone 20 minutes at any time without seeing somebody.

Trap Lake was sparkling a gorgeous blue as I descended the ridge. I took the side trail to get water and have a quick snack. I also managed to get turned around in the tangled rabbit warren of trails around the lake, so by the time I got straightened around, and I fixed a problem with my hydration system, it was close to 4:00.

2015-08-24 13.19.42
Trap Lake
2015-08-24 14.36.59
Lexie and Colleen, mighty hiker women

So, 4:00. I had six more miles and 1500 feet to go, before Lake Susan Jane. I needed to be there no later than 7:30, because (skipping the details) I hike in my sunglasses, and the sun is setting earlier each day. Needless to say, I needed to step on the gas. I went faster than I am generally comfortable with (not too fast, though). I climbed a short ridge, did a long descent to Hope and Mig Lakes, climbed a more enthusiastic ridge to Lake Susan Jane, and swapped out my sunglasses just before hitting my campsite. Whew. I got camp set up in record time.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. Not only is this a familiar section of trail, but I should be seeing Brendan and Alex around 10, taking them to lunch (BURGER! SHAKE!) and heading to the Dinsmores’!

*Photo credits for the scenery: Eric Aalto

Sunday, August 23, 2015, Mile 2444: Fires to the North

At Deception Lakes, Mile 2444

What a day.

I got to sleep around 8 last night, and slept like a rock. I used my earplugs, and it made a world of difference. I wasn’t overly concerned, simply because there were decent people nearby.  Man, did that feel good.

I said goodbye to Paul and Matt, and headed back up to the main trail.  I took some time to record, and then started the ascent up the ridge.

2015-08-23 10.40.13
Heading up Cathedral Pass

The ridge climb that I put off yesterday was much cooler today.  I made it up to Cathedral Pass, and the operative word was Gorgeous.  As in the ridge was gorgeous, the pass was gorgeous, Cathedral Rock was gorgeous…are you detecting a trend here? High alpine heather, beautiful path, and O, the MOUNTAINS! I had more fun, just rambling along the top of the ridge and taking pictures.

2015-08-23 10.43.28
Cathedral Pass ridge ramble
2015-08-23 10.54.56
Cathedral Rock

And then I met a girl named Kelly. She’s a SOBO sectioner, and is one of the few sectioners I’ve met who will be travelling farther than I am. She also brought fire news, which matched what Paul had said the night before.  The Okanogan fire is now over 144K acres. Hwy 20 is closed at Newhalem (west of Rainy Pass, which is the PCT junction); that probably affects the Cascade Pass detour (the workaround for the Blankenship closure from Suiattle River to Stehekin). Hwy 20 is also closed the other direction, due to the Okanogan fire.

The long and the short of it is that if all of this info is correct (and it was very current), my trip will be over not long after Stevens.  I sat down in the shadow of Cathedral rock and just cried for a few minutes.  This means so much to me, and I just want to see it completed, hopefully this year.  I need to wait until I get to the Dinsmores’ to get the best info, but I’m really concerned.  I messaged Steve, and he confirmed what she said, but added that the situation is very fluid. I took a deep breath (okay, a very deep breath), and kept walking. This is incredible country, and I don’t want to miss it because I’m focused on what’s happening further north.

A handful of miles wandering along stunning ridges, and I came to a sign warning of a “Dangerous Ford.” There was an alternate route posted, for stock; as I understand it, it’s better to take the stock route early in the season. As it had been very dry lately, I took the main route. The creek is the drainage for the Hyas Glacier, on Mt. Daniel, west of the trail. The creek runs through a fairly narrow slot, and once it opens up above the trail, it splits into several sections. I skipped the log bridge and just plowed through. From there, it was a matter of carefully following cairns, because the trail was practically invisible from one section to the next. And at the end, there was a bit of scrambling and a veggie belay or two. (A veggie belay is when you use branches and such to pull yourself up a slope.)

Ford
Hikers crossing the unnamed creek. The last part of the crossing is hidden to the right. *
2015-08-23 13.58.42
The creek looks deceptively small here. For perspective, the diameter of the root ball, on the right of the log bridge, was roughly as tall as I am.

2015-08-23 13.59.48

I gradually ascended a long ridge, heading toward Deception Lakes.

2015-08-23 17.42.47
The first colors of fall, heading toward Deception Lakes

I made camp, and I had the place to myself.  I had been warned about the mice (bring a mousetrap, or a cat), but with my Ursack and my water bottle stowed away from my tent, I ended up having the quietest night I’ve ever had in a campsite, ever, anywhere.  No sound at all.  And that made for some good sleep, which was exactly what I needed.

*Photo credit: Eric Aalto

Saturday, August 22, 2015, Mile 2432: Gratitude

At Deep Lake, Mile 2432

Happy birthday to me…I’m 51 today!

I hit the rack last night a bit after 9:30, and I could feel it today. There’s a reason they call 9:00 “Hiker Midnight.”

This morning, I got up, said goodbye to my camp mates, who were fixing their breakfast, and headed down the trail. As I descended the ridge, I met a couple at the next campsite; they were about my age. The wife said to me, “Way to go! We need to show these kids that it doesn’t have to be just 20-somethings out here solo hiking.” And I replied, “No, it doesn’t. I’m 51, and in fact today’s my birthday.”

With an “Oh my gosh!” she rummaged around in her pack, and pulled out a big chunk of homemade peanut brittle! She handed it to me, and I got another delightful round of Happy Birthday, dear Rest Step!

The husband heard my name, and asked if I had been in the Mountaineers.  So I explained the connection. What a great encounter that was!

I descended the ridge, to Waptus River. There’s a lovely wood bridge which crosses the river, although it was so low it would have been an easy ford. I treated myself to a bit of relaxation: washing up (no soap), rinsing out my socks (eww), refilling with clear, cold water (yum), and putting my feet up while I had a mid-morning snack.

2015-08-22 10.53.14
The view from the Waptus River laundromat
2015-08-22 10.53.40
That’s as clean as my socks ever got
2015-08-22 12.30.18
Crossing Waptus River and heading north

My goal today was a campsite at the base of Cathedral Rock. ‘Twas a lofty goal, but not to be. I hiked around Waptus Lake, and up Spinola Creek, and when I got to the Deep Lake side trail, it became very apparent that I was going to stop here. The ascent up the ridge to Cathedral Pass has a southern aspect, the sun was very hot, and I didn’t feel like schlepping water up the ridge to a dry camp. So Deep Lake became the destination of choice.

Deep Lake 1
Hiking in to Deep Lake, with Cathedral Rock in the background *

After scouting around, I found a large campsite with two tents and room for one more. One of them was unoccupied, but there was a father/son pair (Paul and Matt) in the other.

The ranger came around while I was setting up my camp. She wanted to check my permit, make sure I knew LNT, and make sure I knew there was a backcountry toilet a little ways away. Life’s little pleasures…a loo with a seat!

I went down with Paul, to soak my feet in the lake; Matt was out fishing. We found a lovely rock, where I could soak my burning feet in water that was exactly the right temperature (and clear enough for a very easy fill-up).

Deep Lake
What a place to soak your feet! *

After a long, roundabout conversation, we discovered a connection! He works for the City of Everett, and I made the connection back to Tom, the husband of one of Lynn’s best friends). Tom and Paul have worked together since forever. So I can now say that I shared a campsite with my son’s godmother’s best friend’s husband’s longtime colleague. How about that?

The sun was sinking, so we headed back to the campsite. I fixed dinner, had a bit of dessert, and crawled in bed before 8. Luxury!

Tonight I’m grateful for many things.  A birthday song. A river, a lake, and a mountain view. Friends along the way. And most of all, my family.

*Photo credit: Eric Aalto

Friday, August 21, 2015, Mile 2422: From Podcasts to a Party

At a campsite on the ridge between Escondido Tarns and Waptus River, Mile 2422

Today was 13 miles and 3500 feet net gain. There’s definitely a trend here: up a ridge, down a ridge, up a ridge, and so on. I was to learn that Section J is considered the toughest section of the trail. The raw stats are 72 miles and 19K feet, but like any trail stats it doesn’t take the tread into consideration. I don’t know about “toughest,” as I’ve also heard that Section K is the “second toughest on the entire trail.” But J is certainly a challenge.

A side note: The PCT is broken into sections. These are mostly based on ease of access, e.g. Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. California, with nearly 1700 miles of trail, has Sections A-R.  Oregon and Washington, with just under 1000 miles, re-start at A and continue to L.  Last year, I hiked the lion’s share of Washington Section H; it is my goal this year to finish H, and continue on through I, J, K, and L.

Anyway, I broke camp, tanked up at the little spring just past the falls, and got a couple of pictures. It’s really a lovely place.

2015-08-21 08.10.52
Delate Falls

The first several miles were a slow ascent, and then in the afternoon I began the real climb up toward the Escondido Tarns. I discovered that listening to podcasts really helps me going up the ridges. They’re engaging, and there’s no competition between the beat of the music and the ever-changing rhythm of my feet as the trail gets more or less steep.

2015-08-21 16.52.46
Climbing the ridge toward the Escondido Tarns

I reached the crest later in the afternoon, and the wind had turned cold. I wasn’t wearing an insulation layer, because I’d been climbing, but crossing the ridge and beginning the slow descent to the tarns proved to be a bit nippy. I should have refilled at the first (much clearer) tarn, but alas, I gave my filter a workout at the second.

Escondido Tarns
The second of the two tarns *
2015-08-21 19.02.49
Twilight is approaching as I head down the other side of the ridge

With insulation layer in place, end-of-the-day fatigue beginning to set in, and with a long but gentle descent in front of me, I headed down the trail. My goal was a campsite on the ridge, before the descent to Waptus River. I kept the podcasts going, and arrived at my destination a little before 8:00.

There were a small handful of campsites nestled together, and a party of three had claimed the first two spots. They were very welcoming. One of them was busy putting together a Backpacker’s Pantry cheesecake mix, and said I was more than welcome to share when it was finished. I said that would be a great treat, as tomorrow was my birthday, and it’s always good to celebrate early.

2015-08-21 20.45.23
Birthday cheesecake with new friends!

Anyway, after I’d set up camp and eaten my stroganoff, they came over singing Happy Birthday, dear Rest Step! I was grinning all over…how cool was that? And hearing my trail name just plain makes me smile.

*Photo credit: mbtigger

Thursday, August 20, 2015, Mile 2409: Traipsing through the Talus

At Delate Creek, Mile 2409

Today was a hell of a day, a lot tougher than I expected. The first eight miles were basically all talus, all the time. Talus is rockfall on the slope of a mountain, and often requires careful foot placement, plus a bit of scrambling when the boulders are large. Scree is the little stuff…pebbles and small rocks.  Talus is the larger stuff, ranging from boot-size to refrigerator-sized boulders. My balance isn’t the best, although it’s definitely improved over the years! But talus has never been my friend, and hence my forward progress was rather slow.

The weather made it much more complex, and much less rewarding.  The ridge northwest to Chikamin Peak, and the entire Chikamin/Four Brothers area, was completely socked in…entirely covered with cloud, which was punctuated by heavy wind and the occasional bit of rain.  It was just one thing after another, and I did not have fun. And I missed quite a bit of gorgeous scenery.

2015-08-20 11.55.43
The advantage of talus slopes: marmots
four brothers
What I missed, thanks to the weather on Chikamin Ridge and the Four Brothers **

Fortunately, after I rounded a ridge through Chikamin Pass, it was a whole different ball game. The talus was still there, but I could actually see; the clouds were gone, and the weather was much calmer.

2015-08-20 14.21.29
Park Lakes from Chikamin Pass

One of the other things that were bothering me was the mental inventory I was taking of my food. I calculated the speed at which I was travelling today, and what was in my food supply, and it wasn’t adding up. It definitely didn’t add up if there were more days like today, and I was getting a bit concerned.

Anyway, I rounded that ridge, and suddenly the scenery was a) there, and b) really lovely. I continued the traverse down the ridge, and who did I meet but a retired couple, Unbreakable and No Trace, the kindest and humblest hikers around. They are on their second thru, and are Triple Crowners…a fact that they neglected to mention. We spent probably fifteen minutes talking about the trail, about being older than the average hiker, and all kinds of things. Fifteen minutes is a long time for an impromptu trail conversation.

Unbreakable reminded me that the shuttle bus to Stehekin only takes cash. I said to her, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered. I put small bills in my resupply for Stevens.”

She replied, “Wow, you’re organized!” And I replied, “Not always…I forgot to do specific research on this section, especially regarding talus slopes, where I tend to go slow, so I’ll need an extra day, and I’m a little short on food. Grr.”

And without hesitation, they pulled out a couple of Idahoan instant potato packs and a Top Ramen, and handed them to me! Trail magic! And it really made a difference in my attitude. What a privilege it was to meet them!

The scenery along this stretch is incredible. I climbed one last ridge, taking lots of pictures, including one of my beloved Mt. Stuart.

2015-08-20 15.19.11
Three Queens
2015-08-20 16.50.31
Three Queens
2015-08-20 14.53.21
Mt. Stuart with lenticular clouds

Finally, I descended, perhaps 1500 feet, to the beautiful Delate Falls.

There was a campsite just before the falls, so that became home sweet home. There was no convenient place to get water at the falls, unless I crawled under the bridge, but fortunately there was a spring just past the bridge. I topped off and went back to camp.

Go figure, I’m really tired, so I’m not even going to do my evening route planning. That can wait until my brain is awake.

Footnote: Although these pictures were taken in early summer a few years ago, they are well -labeled; they give the feel of today’s hike, and what I would have encountered had there been any visibility along Chikamin and Four Brothers. I saw zero snow. http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/trip-reports/trip_report.2011-07-24.9626619341

*Photo credit: Eric Aalto

**Photo credit: http://www.grandcanyontreks.org

Wednesday, August 19, 2015, Mile 2398: Mighty Hiker Women

At Ridge Lake, Mile 2398

Predictably, this morning started with an enormous breakfast, probably the biggest combo on the menu. While making a dent in it, I met a whole group of hikers, some of which were about to hit the trail, and some of whom were taking a zero or two. Little Brown, about my age, and a local as well. Wormwood, a young guy with an REI shirt, modded to say PCT. Blue Sky, a thru from central Asia; he’s the one who gave Thermometer his name. Country Mouse and her SO Shadow. And Samson, who is celebrating his birthday today.

I was definitely ready to go. After Steve and Patrick left, it just wasn’t the same, so I skedaddled right after breakfast. I stopped at the Chevron to pick up a little cash, and to grab a Powerade, which I drank while walking to the TH.

2015-08-19 09.20.47

The last time I crossed under I-90 was when our Venturing Crew went snowshoeing, in 2012. That was a great day. I remember the ranger saying, “You guys are really fast.” Well, several of us had done Philmont a few short months prior, so that probably explained it.

I’m not feeling very fast these days, with my miles per day maxing out in the mid teens. We were talking about this over breakfast, and Blue Sky just looked at me. He said, “I usually hike 15-17 miles per day, and sometimes I don’t even get out of camp until 10:30.”

I said, “Wow, that sounds exactly like me!”

And Samson said, “Well, my son met me for a section in northern Oregon, and he just couldn’t keep up with me. But like you said, I’ve got a couple of thousand miles of conditioning, and that’s just the way it is.”

That really helped me feel better. Sometimes I feel like a poser because my mileage is relatively low, and because it takes me longer than average to break camp in the morning. But this is my own hike, and I’m incredibly grateful to be out here.

The weather today is gorgeous, with less smoke than there has been lately. I’ve been using my inhaler regularly, because there’s a lot of smoke coming from the Cougar Creek fire to the south. There’s a chance of rain on Friday 8/21, which should help. And the weather will be drying out for my birthday on Saturday.

I get to do the Kendall Katwalk again today! I’ll always remember meeting Acorn the Elder on the far side of the Katwalk, last year. We had met briefly at Mosquito Creek, on my first section.

I’m looking forward to the second half of my hike, even though according to this year’s mileage it’s not even half: I’m starting at roughly mile 150 out of roughly 400. I’m really, really grateful. I’ve felt ups, I’ve felt downs, I know I’m not the only one with “hiker brain,” who can’t spit out her words to save her life. I’ve met so many awesome people. And the best part is being able to introduce my guys to this incredible community.

When I arrived, I took my picture by the TH sign. Just a bit up from the TH, there’s a picnic table, and somebody had put out a cooler of drinks and a trail register. I was one of the first ones to sign.

2015-08-19 09.34.50
Hitting the trail again!

I made a tactical error, and only put a liter of water in my Platy. Turns out it was far hotter, drier, and more exposed than I had remembered. Oops.

2015-08-19 12.17.20
The fall colors were mighty early this year

On the way up, I met a group of women in their 60s-70s. They were out for a day hike, and when they asked me how far I was going, I said, “Well, actually, Canada.” Then I said, “I’m going to be 51 this week, and it’s my mission to show women that they can get out there, hike by themselves, and ain’t nobody gonna stop us.” I got some serious high fives. And one of the women asked if I needed anything, so I said I was a bit short of water. She very graciously gave me half a liter, which was just exactly enough to take me over the Katwalk and across to Ridge Lake. Magic is everywhere.

The Kendall Katwalk itself is a 150 yard section of the trail which was literally blasted out of the mountain, saving 2-3 days of hiking. Very interesting story, and well worth a read.  The trail is wide and safe enough for stock. And the views are stunning.

2015-08-19 14.30.29
Looking back at the south side of the Katwalk
2015-08-19 14.30.54
Northbound across the Katwalk, headed toward Ridge Lake

One of the cool things for me today was seeing Mt. Stuart for the first time. I’ve spent a lot of time hiking in the Teanaway, and seeing Stuart was like old home week. I’m finally back in my neck of the woods! And the whole trail is much more familiar to me. Not that I’ve hiked it all, but it feels like the trails that I know.

2015-08-19 14.29.24
Mt. Stuart is visible in the distance (center). You can also see the smoke from the Chelan Complex fire.
Katwalk
One more view, looking south *

I arrived at Ridge Lake around 4.  I was actually thinking of going farther, but in retrospect it was a good thing I didn’t. I learned that there was no water for nine miles past this point, but I didn’t get this info until well after I’d set up camp. So I’ll grab a good load tomorrow.

2015-08-19 18.10.12
Ridge Lake
2015-08-19 18.10.15
A snug camp, staked out against the wind
2015-08-19 18.10.31
It was good to be back on the trail

When I went to collect water down at a little beach area, I met a Girl Scout troop from my neck of the woods. There were two adults, a junior leader, and about half a dozen girls. They’re doing Section J. I’ve never come across a Girl Scout troop who backpacks like this, and it was wonderful to meet them.

One of the adults invited me down to the beach to join them, and I introduced myself as a Venturing Crew advisor. When they learned what I was doing, they were tickled pink, and all kinds of questions ensued. The leaders in particular were very interested in my gear list, so I talked about most of it, and the rationales behind choosing each piece. I also talked specifically with the young adult leader, Katherine, and it was very clear that she was able to do the whole trail. She was thinking seriously about it, after returning from an extended trip overseas. I love encouraging people to hike the trail, as it’s such a life changing experience.

They offered to let me camp with them, but I said I was looking for something a bit more protected from the wind. So they headed back to their campsite.

And then a woman, Lady Rose, and her dog, came down to the beach. Her trail name is after the Lady Rose, a cargo and passenger vessel which until recently plied the waters of Barkley Sound in BC. Lady Rose and her pup were heading up to Stevens, until morning nausea became debilitating. She decided to return, and see if perhaps she was expecting…and she was pretty excited about that.

I love having all these random conversations! It’s one of the really awesome things about long distance hiking.

As I mentioned, the water tomorrow is further than expected. The Park Lakes are about 9 miles and 2700 gain from Ridge Lake. They’re off the trail, so I’ll take enough to see me through Delate Creek, about 10 miles from here.

I was just mulling/wishing for a zero in my own house. That’s probably mostly because I miss my guys. I always miss my guys. I just wish I could show them what it’s like out here, because it’s part of who I am, and I want them to see it.

*Photo credit: Eric Aalto

Footnote: Jennifer was at the trailhead within the next several days, and she found my name in the register!